Professional References – Allies in an Effective Job Search

A woman I barely know recently requested that I recommend her on LinkedIn. I was taken aback because I had only met her a handful of times in very casual circumstances. I could not speak to the quality of her work or her character so I politely declined her request. It was awkward for both of us.

Professional references are an important piece of an effective job search strategy. Most recruiters look at the recommendations on your LinkedIn profile before contacting you. And any reputable employer will call your professional references prior to bringing you onboard.

A strong reference will affirm the feelings the hiring team has about you and this often seals the deal to receiving an offer. Lackluster or unfocused comments could cause the hiring team to look more closely at another candidate. It is the kiss of death if a candidate’s references don’t return calls.

Tami Palmer, former recruiter turned career coach and mentor at greyzone, agrees this is an important topic. In general, at least one of your references should be a previous manager. It could raise a red flag if a candidate’s reference list consists only of peers.

Palmer adds, “When you’re thinking of your references, think 360 – it’s important to have managers on the list, but if you’ve been a manager yourself, I want to talk to the people who worked for you. If you’re in sales I want to speak with a client. If you’re in purchasing, a vendor. Thinking through your connections and providing references that paint a complete picture of your work world can be very compelling to a future employer.”

If your references are not as strong as you would like, commit to developing stronger professional relationships. Do your best work and make it a priority to get along well with your manager. Even if you disagree, do so respectfully and in a way that maintains the relationship.

Seek out coaching or career counseling if you are prone to conflict in the workplace. Even if you have a lot of experience or talent, it will be hard to find people willing to sing your praises to potential employers if you don’t know how to play well with others.

If you left your last job under negative circumstances, your previous manager may still be willing to speak on your behalf. Perhaps the focus can be on your work ethic and desire to contribute. If you approach the subject with humility, it is possible that your former boss will want to help you succeed in finding a better fit.

Before making a request for a reference or recommendation, assess the quality of the relationship. Don’t ask for more than the level of connection warrants. In other words, don’t ask a near stranger for a recommendation! Ultimately, the information a reference shares about you will only be as meaningful as the working relationship on which it is founded.

When job searching, give your references a heads up so they are prepared. Share the details of the position and clarify the specific skills and qualifications you would like them to highlight. It is okay to provide key talking points to your references or those making online recommendations.

Palmer agrees, “Having recommendations on LinkedIn is truly helpful, but don’t simply ask someone to recommend you, guide them to what you want them to say. If you have old emails of praise, forward them along to the person you’re asking to recommend you. Remind them of how they’ve complimented you in the past and you’ll both speed up the reference process, and have some control in what’s being said about you.”

Professional references are vital to your ongoing success. Do good work and make it a priority to build meaningful relationships at work. This is the best way to ensure you have a supportive network of people willing to speak to your talent and character.